Meeker tops Paonia in 2OT thriller

Meeker’s Raul Lopez takes a contested layup Saturday while Paonia’s Ben Linnell, left, and Taylor Walters, right, defend during Meeker’s 65-59 double-overtime win in the Class 2A regional tournament final at Palisade High School.

Meeker’s Raul Lopez celebrates Saturday after the Cowboys defeated Paonia 65-59 in double overtime to win the Class 2A regional tournament and claim a state tourney berth.

If this was a movie, it’s a shame there won’t be a sequel. This was regional title match that deserves a rematch.

Meeker took every jab, hook and haymaker Paonia (18-6) threw and finally survived with a 65-59 double-overtime victory in the Class 2A regional tournament final in Palisade on Saturday.

After winning on Friday to set up the fourth meeting between the two teams, Meeker head coach Klark Kindler prophetically said, “It’s going to be a great game.”

Great game, indeed, but there will be no rematch. The win propelled Meeker (17-6) into the final eight of the state tournament, and the Eagles’ season came to an end

“I thought both teams left everything on the floor,” Kindler said. “We just happened to make about one more play than they did.”

As the game went into the first overtime, the Cowboys appeared to be ready to celebrate, leading 52-49 with 3.9 seconds remaining. But Paonia senior Josiah Spano took a half dozen dribbles before launching a 35-footer that banked in to tie the game at the buzzer.

Spano pumped his fist and was mobbed by teammates. Momentum belonged to Paonia, but it didn’t last.

“We really wanted to try and keep that momentum, but we came out and missed an easy bucket,” Paonia head coach Chase Roeber said. “That was kind of the name of the game. They made plays down the stretch, and we didn’t.

“Anytime you go to double overtime (and lose), it’s really tough,” he added. “But you have to give Meeker all the credit.”

When Spano’s shot temporarily snatched the victory away from the Cowboys, Kindler knew he had to get the troops refocused.

“I told them we just had a little adversity, and, ‘How are we going to handle that adversity?’ ” he said.

The answer came quickly, but not from the usual scoring sources for the Cowboys.

Throughout the game, whenever the Cowboys needed a jolt, it was provided by Raul Lopez or Jeremy Musgrave, who scored 25 and 17 points respectively.

Lopez scored five points in the second overtime, but to start the extra session, Meeker found a couple of unsung heroes.

Joe Newman hit a turnaround jumper in the paint for the first points, then Dylan Mobley hit two buckets to put Meeker up 58-54. Mobley also had a key 3-pointer in the first OT.

Like they had the entire game, Paonia surged again when freshman Dagan Rienks hit two free throws and a bucket, and Spano drained another 3 to cut the lead to 61-59. But Lopez and Kash Atwood hit two free throws each to seal the win and a trip to the Front Range for the Cowboys.

Lopez gave Paonia fits all game long, slashing to the bucket and using his skillful ball handling to get into the lane.

“Paonia played their hearts out and really battled to the end,” Lopez said. “But we fought back, we got rebounds, and we hit shots when we needed to.”

The game, which was tied at 21-21 at the half, shaped up to be a battle of Meeker’s perimeter quickness and Paonia’s inside game led by Taylor Walters, who finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds.

With the game on the line, Walters was in the middle of the action, which should come as no surprise, because the athletic sophomore excels in pressure situations. He was the quarterback on the Eagles’ state championship football team.

After Jason Sturgis hit a jumper, Walters’ two free throws knotted the score at 42-42 with 1:23 remaining. Then, his defense kept the score tied. First, he forced a turnover, then he blocked a shot at the buzzer to force the first overtime.

After Walters picked up his fifth foul in the first overtime, the Eagles faced a daunting task.

Paonia grabbed a six-point lead in the fourth when Walters hit a 10-foot jumper. But Lopez quickly responded with a short jumper and a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 38-37 with 3:30 remaining.

For Spano, coming up short in his final high school game was disappointing, but he gave the Cowboys the respect they earned.

“There’s a winning side and a losing side, and you just have to be humble and respect the fact that Meeker played better today,” he said.

Meeker will learn its first-round state opponent today when CHSAA announces the 2A tournament seeding. The tourney begins Thursday at CSU-Pueblo.


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